Talent Management: Meaningful Information at the Speed of Decision Making

The core strategy of Talent management should be effective role performance. And in today’s world core role performance centres around the ability to make effective decisions.

For many roles and situations decisions are relatively routine in that they fall within a range of expected situations and variety of circumstances. In other circumstances decisions fall along the boundary of knowns and unknowns, beliefs and speculations, and hoped for/not for guesses/estimates. Today’s post explores some aspects of the role of “incoming information” to these decision archetypical situations.

This post is inspired by two articles in the 21 June, 2011 National Post. First is an article by Thomas H Davenport and Jim Hagemann Snare titled “How fast and flexible do you want information?”, page FP9. The second article is in the June edition of the Financial Post Magazine insert by Suzanne Wintrob titled “Diversity rules”, pages FPM16 – 20.

Davenport and Hagemann’s article considers the speed and flexibility that information needs to be if you are to have maximally effective decision making.

Speed is critical if the decision making needs to be responsive to changes. Imagine an operator/pilot with their respective “dashboards” receiving myriads of information inputs. A critical aspect of their role is to make corrective like decisions ad to do this safely and economically. Speed of receipt and comprehension of the applicable information is important. Speed so they can act quickly and comprehensibly so they can act correctly.

Flexibility is an interesting concept as it deals with the boundary where “our theories” of how the world works in terms of our decisions. A purely operational model of our activity area will use very specific and often precisely measured information. It can do because of the belief that the world behaves in very a predictable manner. The notion of specificity and preciseness requires this assumption. Imagine measuring something to six decimal places that is at its core randomly (more often unclearly) patterned. Why bother, you would naturally ignore the level of precision and focus on the magnitude of change/shift to determine whether you should become concerned.

So information flexibility is attractive to us at our boundaries of risk uncertainty as regards the way we understand things to behave. Flexibility is also necessary, if we are to become alert to the need to fundamentally rethink our view of the how the world operates.  Flexibility enables us to access and make use of the unexpected, unanticipated, the early signs of basic assumption shifts. Why? It brings to our attention that which we would not expect to occur given our understanding/hypothesis (yes our theory) of how the world behaves. Remember, useful theories make some form of prediction and they can do so in two directions: predict will happen (e.g., gravity will affect the path of light); and predict should not happen (we can have mass without gravity?).

Being “attractive” means of course we are open to the possibility that we don’t have it quite right in our minds as regards to how the world operates. Conceptually this means we understand that our view of the operational situation is more akin to a closed system model when we fully understand that we are living and operating in an open systems circumstance.  We have adopted the “comparatively” closed system concept because it gives some capacity to work effectively in the area of interest (hence it meets the practical/pragmatic tests).

When make strategic level decisions that commit us to making a bold step into the comparative unknown, we raise the issue of information needs as we progress in implementation. HOw should we set up our intelligence framework? How should we do this when we know we going into a comparative realm of uncertainty and supposition?

I would suggest that we build on what was introduced above and pick up on the insights from the Wintrob article which suggests that diversity in thinking approaches and perspectives is extremely useful. While this article focusses on diversity in the board room, the ideas are much more widely useful.

Diversity is a form of flexibility. Diverse thinking perspectives will pay attention to quite different attributes of the world – because they see them as significant to their world view. If we incorporate diversity into our boundaries of how we think the world will work regarding our strategy we area building in a degree of early detection to things that go “boo in the night”.

There are for me two particularly intriguing thinking dysfunctions that we ALL suffer from:

  1. The seeming need to live and work within a mental/emotional space of certainty about the world. The implication of this is we ignore or explain away that which is anomalous. That is, we go some efforts to discount that which isn’t part of what we expect (hope to expect?).
  2. The difficulty we have in seeing, accepting as plausible and if so relevant, and understanding those perspectives that are alien to how we think about the world.  The trick is not to suspend our own sensibilities while considering the fascinatingly different perspective. It is holding our own while considering  the relevant implications of another perspective. This seems to become more problematical when values are involved. Unfortunately, almost anything worthwhile in life involves values. Strategy is certainly value laden. Why? Strategy is about what we “should do”. “Should” is a value ladened concept. Remember, even making the statement that we should be “practical” is a value based choice.

Davenport and Hagemann’s article touches on these concerns when they speak to how we are more uncomfortable with entertaining and factoring in information that is imprecise.

We can be precise about the past. Even in the most sophisticated process oriented industrial settings, “reatime measurement” is still about the past, even if it is a nano-second later.

We can only perceive what might be relevant and critical when we deal with the future. Why? Because the future has not happened yet. So what we see now, even though it is highly suggestive of the future, may not turn out quite different than we thought. We all know this, that which we fear turns out to be a figment of our over active imagination.

How might we work with these circumstances? I believe it means in part developing a new respect to the concept of theory. In our culture, the greatest brick you can toss out at a different idea or perspective is to say that it is “theoretical. For me, because I have a deep respect for those who practice science I appreciate how they make operational use of theories in their work including:

  • It has to work (i.e., be of practical merit) to be considered.
  • It has to provide insight in better ways than competing theories.
  • It has to explain more usefully that which other theories struggle with.
  • It has to be disprovable, that is, we understand how we can find the theory inadequate.

The last point is the most important to me. This point suggests that when we deal with boundaries of understanding, it is often easier to establish our boundary information schemes to discern as quickly as possible that the future may not turn out as we hoped for.

If we get a reading that suggests something amiss might be emerging will it turn out to be so? No. We next do what makes sense to better confirm or set aside the early warning. This is why speed in detecting and making legitimate use of early warnings is so useful. It gives us time to appropriately respond to the message. Another benefit for having the disciple and capacity to act early is confirmation efforts are usually a lot simpler and cheaper because we have the time to understand, decide and act appropriately.





About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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